It’s official: Wolverines, once found throughout the Rocky Mountains and in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, could soon be classified as an endangered species. Last Friday, U.S. wildlife officials proposed Endangered Species Act protections for wolverines, now-rare animals who, though growing up to some 40 pounds, can stand up to grizzly bears.
But global warming is threatening wolverines’ existence. One of the largest members of the weasel family, wolverines raise their kits in burrows far beneath snows that last until May. They have jaws that can crack other animals’ frozen bones and a double layer of insulating fur. Scientists have been monitoring wolverines in Montana’s Helena National Forest and found that they have “intricate biological mechanisms, including a thyroid that supercharges their metabolism,” notes the New York Times.
Unregulated trapping throughour the 19th century and poisoning campaigns wiped out wolverine populations across the 48 states by the 1930s. Only 250-300 survive in the contiguous U.S., in Idaho, Wyoming, Washington and Montana, where it is legal to trap them. Larger populations still exist in Alaska and Canada.
With global warming inexorably destroying wolverines’ wintry habitat, wildlife advocates have stepped up efforts to save them. Under the Bush Administration, Defenders of Wildlife unsuccessfully sought federal protections for them. A lawsuit brought by this group and also Arizona’s Center for Biological Diversity prompted the latest action, which could finally grant wolverines more than needed protected status.
Federal officials want to end the trapping of wolverines in Montana but will still allow human activities including snowmobiling and skiing, as well as the development of transportation corridors in the areas wolverines live in. Under a special rule proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, a Colorado agency will be allowed to reintroduce some wolverines to the state’s mountains, with a view to them eventually moving into New Mexico and Wyoming.
If the proposal passes, the wolverine would join the polar bear as a species whose existence is threatened by climate change. Wildlife advocates hope making it official that wolverines are endangered species can help to push the Obama administration to call for regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, notes the Guardian.
Making it all too clear that wolverines are disappearing will, it is hoped, make the public aware of their plight. As the New York Times points out, when the actor Hugh Jackman played the Marvel Comics “Wolverine” character, he said he studied wolves — an entirely different species — to prepare for the role. Clearly we need to act fast and take serious action to save wolverines, before they become just some fantastic creature in a comic book.
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